The Story Of The Rome, Watertown, And Ogdensburg RailRoad Part 6

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In the mid-seventies the young city of Watertown was entering upon a rare era in which culture and great prosperity were to be blended. The men who walked its pleasant maple-shaded streets were real men, indeed: the Flower brothers--George W., Anson R. and Roswell P.--George B. Phelps, Norris Winslow, the Knowlton brothers--John C. and George W.--Talcott H. Camp, George A. Bagley, these were the men who were the town's captains of industry of that day. An earlier generation had pa.s.sed away; Norris Woodruff, O. V. Brainard, Orville Hungerford; these men had played their large parts in the upbuilding of Watertown and were gone or else living in advanced years. A new generation of equal energy and ability had come to replace them. Roswell P. Flower was upon the threshold of that remarkable career in Wall Street that was to make him for a time its leader and give him the large political honor of becoming Governor of the State of New York. His brother, George W., first Mayor of Watertown, was tremendously interested in each of the city's undertakings. George B. Phelps had risen from the post of Superintendent of the old Potsdam & Watertown to be one of the town's richest men. He had a city house in New York--a handsome "brownstone front" in one of the "forties"--and in his huge house in Stone Street, Watertown, the luxury of a negro valet, John Fletcher, for many years a familiar figure upon the streets of the town.

From the pulpit of the dignified First Presbyterian Church in Washington Street, the venerable Dr. Isaac Brayton had now retired; his place was being filled by Dr. Porter, long to be remembered in the annals of that society. Dr. Olin was about entering old Trinity, still in Court Street.

Into the ancient structure of the Watertown High School, in State Street, the genial and accomplished William Kerr Wickes was coming as princ.i.p.al.

The Musical Union was preparing for its record run of _Pinafore_ in Washington Hall. And in the old stone cotton factory on Beebee's Island, Fred Eames was tinkering with his vacuum air brake, little dreaming of the tragic fate that was to await him but a few years later; more likely, perhaps, of the great air brake industry to which he was giving birth and which, three decades later, was to take its proper place among the town's chief industries. Paper manufacturing, as it is known to-day in the North Country, was then a comparatively small thing; there were few important mills outside of those of the Knowltons or the Taggarts--the clans of Remington, of Herring, of Sherman and of Anderson were yet to make their deep impress upon the community.

Carriage making was then a more important business than that of paper making. The very thought of the motor-car was as yet unborn and Watertonians reckoned the completion of a new carriage in the town in minutes rather than in hours. It made steam engines and sewing machines.

All in all it created a very considerable traffic for its railroad--in reality for its railroads, for in 1872 a rival line had come to contest the monopoly of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh; of which more in good time.

As went Watertown, so went the rest of the North Country. It was a brisk, prosperous land, where industry and culture shared their forces. There was a plenitude of manufacturing even outside of Watertown, whilst the mines at Keene and Rossie had reopened and were shipping a modest five or six cars a day of really splendid red ore. People worked well, people thought well. The excellent seminaries at Belleville, at Adams, at Antwerp and at Gouverneur reflected a general demand for an education better than the public schools of that day might offer. The young St. Lawrence University up at Canton, after a hard beginning fight, was at last on its way to its present day strength and influence.

Northern New Yorkers traveled. They traveled both far and near. Even distant Europe was no sealed book to them. There were dozens of fine homes, even well outside of the towns and villages, which boasted their Steinway pianos and whose young folk, graduated from Yale or Mount Holyoke, spoke intelligently with their elders of Napoleon III or of the charms of the boulevards of Paris.

In the upbuilding of this prosperous era the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh had played its own large part. By 1875 it was nearly a quarter of a century old. It was indeed an extremely high grade and prosperous property, the pride, not only of Watertown, which had been so largely responsible for its construction, but indeed of the entire North Country.

It had, as we have already seen, as far back as 1866, succeeded in thrusting a line into Oswego, thirty miles west of Richland. After which it felt that it needed an entrance into Syracuse, then as now, a most important railroad center. To accomplish this entrance it leased, in 1875, the Syracuse Northern Railroad, and then gained at last a firm two-footed stand upon the tremendous main line of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. It continued to maintain, of course, its original connection at Rome--its long stone depot there still stands to-day, although far removed from the railroad tracks. Yet one, in memory at least, may see it as the brisk business place of yore, with the four tracks of the Vanderbilt trail curving upon the one side of it and the brightly painted yellow cars of the R. W. & O. waiting upon the other. The Rome connection gave the road direct access to Boston, New York, and to the East generally; that at Syracuse made the journey from Northern New York to western points much easier and more direct, than it had been through the Rome gateway. It was logical and it was strategic. And it is possible that had the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh been content to remain satisfied with its system as it then existed, a good deal of railroad history that followed after, would have remained unwritten.

The railroad scheme that finally led to the building of the Syracuse Northern had been under discussion since 1851, the year of the completion of the Watertown & Rome Railroad. Yet, largely because of the paucity of good sized intermediate towns upon the lines of the proposed route, the plan for a long time had languished. In the late sixties it was successfully revived, however, and the Syracuse Northern Railroad incorporated, early in 1870, with a capital stock of $1,250,000 and the following officers:

_President_, ALLEN MUNROE _Secretary_, PATRICK H. AGAN _Treasurer_, E. B. JUDSON _Engineer_, A. C. POWELL


Allen Munroe, Syracuse E. W. Leavenworth, Syracuse E. B. Judson, Syracuse Patrick Lynch, Syracuse Frank H. Hisc.o.c.k, Syracuse John A. Green, Syracuse Jacob S. Smith, Syracuse Horace K. White, Syracuse Elizur Clark, Syracuse Garret Doyle, Syracuse William H. Canter, Brewerton James A. Clark, Pulaski Orin R. Earl, Sandy Creek

The road once organized found a lively demand for its shares. Its largest investor was the city of Syracuse, which subscribed for $250,000 worth of its bonds. The first depot of the new line in the city that gave it its birth was in Saxon Street, up in the old town of Salina. From there it was that Denison, Belden & Company began the construction of the railroad. It was not a difficult road to build, easy grades and but three bridges--a small one at Parish and two fairly sizable ones at Brewerton and at Pulaski--to go up, so it was finished and opened for traffic in the fall of 1871--which was precisely the same year that the New York Central opened its wonderful Grand Central Depot down on Forty-second Street, New York. The line ran through from Syracuse to Sandy Creek, now Lacona. It started off in good style, operating two pa.s.senger express trains, an accommodation and two freights each day in each direction. At the beginning it made a brave showing for itself, and soon after it was open it built for itself a one-storied brick pa.s.senger station across from the New York Central's, then new, depot in Syracuse, and at right angles to it. That station still stands but is now used as the Syracuse freight station of the American Railway Express.

E. H. Bancroft was the first superintendent of the Syracuse Northern, C.

C. Morse, the second, and J. W. Brown, the third. J. Dewitt Mann was the accounting officer and paymaster. The road never attained to a long official roster of its own, however. Within a twelvemonth after its opening the prosperous Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh, having already seen the advantages of a two-footed connection with the New York Central, planned its purchase. The Syracuse road, having failed to become the financial success of which its promoters had hoped, this act was easily accomplished. The Sheriff of Onondaga County a.s.sisted. In 1875 there was a foreclosure sale and the Syracuse Northern ceased to live thereafter, save as a branch to Pulaski. A few years later the six miles of track between that town and Sandy Creek were torn up and abandoned. The old road-bed is still in plain sight, however, for a considerable distance along the line of the state highway to Watertown as it leads out of Pulaski, while the abutments of the former high railroad bridge over the Salmon River still show conspicuously in that village.

With its system fairly well rounded out, the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh began the intensive perfection of its service. It built, in 1874, the first section of the long stone freight-house opposite the pa.s.senger station--so long a landmark of Watertown--from stone furnished by Lawrence Gage, of Chaumont. Mr. Moak, the Superintendent of the road at that time, was criticized for this expenditure. As a matter of fact it was necessary not only to twice enlarge it quite radically, but to build a relief transfer station at the Junction before the stone freight-house was finally torn down to make room for the present pa.s.senger station at Watertown.

Between the old freight-shed and the old pa.s.senger station there ran for many years but a single pa.s.senger track, curving all the way, and beside it the long platform, which was protected from the elements by a canopy, which in turn, had a canopied connection with the waiting-room; at that time still in the wing or original portion of the station; the main or newer portion, being occupied by the restaurant, which had pa.s.sed from the hands of Col. Dunton into those of Silas Snell, Watertown's most famous cornet player of that generation.

At Watertown the Cape Vincent train would lay in at the end of the freight-house siding, and, because the Coffeen Street crossover had not then been constructed, would back in and out between the pa.s.senger station and the Watertown Junction, a little over a mile distant. Watertown Junction was still a point of considerable pa.s.senger importance. Long platforms were placed between the tracks there and pa.s.sengers destined through to the St. Lawrence never went up into the main pa.s.senger station at all, but changed at that point to the Cape train.

The Thousand Islands were beginning to be known as a summer resort of surpa.s.sing excellence. The famous Crossmon House at Alexandria Bay was already more than two decades old. O. G. Staples had just finished that nine-days-wonder, the Thousand Island House, and plans were in the making for the building of the Round Island Hotel (afterwards the Frontenac) and other huge hostelries that were to make social history at the St.

Lawrence, even before the coming of the cottage and club-house era.

It will be recalled that from the first the R. W. & O. developed excellent docking facilities at Cape Vincent. At the outset it had builded the large covered pa.s.senger station upon the wharf there, whose tragic destruction we have already witnessed. Beyond this were the freight-sheds and the grain elevator. For Cape Vincent's importance in those days was by no means limited to the pa.s.senger travel, which there debouched from the trains to take the steamers to the lower river points, or even that which all the year around made its tedious way across the broad river to Kingston, twenty-two miles away.

The _Lady of the Lake_ pa.s.sed out of existence some six or seven years after the inauguration of the Kingston ferry in connection with the trains into the Cape. She was replaced by the steamer _Pierrepont_--the first of this name--which was built on Wolfe Island in the summer of 1856 and went into service in the following spring. In that same summer of 1857 the ca.n.a.l was dug through the waistline girth of Wolfe Island, and a short and convenient route established through it, between Cape Vincent and Kingston--some twelve or thirteen miles all told, as against nearly twice that distance around either the head or the foot of the island.

It was a pleasant ride through the old Wolfe Island ca.n.a.l. I can easily remember it, myself, the slow and steady progress of the steamboat through the rich farmlands and truck-gardens, the neatly whitewashed highway bridges, swinging leisurely open from time to time to permit of our progress. It is a great pity that the ditch was ever abandoned.

The first _Pierrepont_ was not a particularly successful craft and it was supplemented in 1864 by the _Watertown_, which gradually took the brunt of the steadily increasing traffic across the St. Lawrence at this point. The ferry grew steadily to huge proportions and for many years a great volume of both pa.s.sengers and freight was handled upon it. It is a fact worth noting here, perhaps, that the first through shipment of silk from the Orient over the newly completed transcontinental route of the Canadian Pacific Railway was made into New York, by way of the Cape Vincent ferry and the R. W. & O. in the late fall of 1883.

With the business of this international crossing steadily increasing, it became necessary to keep two efficient steamers upon the route and so the second _Pierrepont_ was builded, going into service in 1874. At about that time the _Watertown_ ceased her active days upon the river and the lake and was succeeded by the staunch steamer _Maud_. Here was a staunch craft indeed, built upon the Clyde somewhere in the late fifties or the early sixties, and shipped in sections from Glasgow to Montreal, where she was set up for St. Lawrence service, in which she still is engaged, under the name of the _America_. Her engines for many years were of a peculiar Scotch pattern, by no means usual in this part of the world, and apparently understood by no one other than Billy Derry, for many years her engineer. Occasionally Derry would quarrel with the owners of the _Maud_ and quit his job. They always sent their apologies after him, however. No one else could run the boat, and they were faced with the alternative of bowing to his whims or laying up the steamer.

Yet, as I have already intimated, the pa.s.senger traffic was but a small part of Cape Vincent's importance through three or four great decades. The ferry carried mail, freight and express as well--the place was ever an important ferry crossing, a seat of a custom house of the first rank. In summer the steamer acted as ferry, for many years crossing the Wolfe Island barrier four times daily, through three or four miles of ca.n.a.l, which some time along in the early nineties was suffered to fill up and was abandoned in 1892. In midwinter mail and freight and pa.s.sengers alike crossed in speed and a real degree of fine comfort in great four-horse sleighs upon a hard roadway of thick, thick ice. It was between seasons, when the ice was either forming or breaking and sleighs as utter an impossibility as steamboats that the real problem arose. In those times of the year a strange craft, which was neither sled nor boat, but a combination of both, was used. It went through the water and over the ice.

Yet the result was not as easy as it sounds. More than one pa.s.senger paid his dollar to go from Cape Vincent to Kingston, for the privilege of pushing the heavy hand sled-boat over the ice, getting his feet wet in the bargain.

Into the many vagaries of North Country weather, I shall not enter at this time. In a later chapter we shall give some brief attention to them. It is enough here to say that a man who could fight a blizzard, coming in from off Ontario, and keep the line open could run a railroad anywhere else in the world. In after years I was to see, myself, some of these rare old fights; Russell plows getting into the drifts over their necks around-about Pulaski and Richland and Sandy Creek, seemingly half the motive power off the track. Yet these were no more than the road has had since almost the very day of its inception.

Once, in the midwinter of 1873, we had a n.o.ble old wind--the North Country has a way of having n.o.ble old winds, even to-day--and the huge spire of the First Presbyterian Church in Washington Street, Watertown, came tumbling down into the road, smashed into a thousand bits, and seemingly with no more noise than the sharp slamming of a blind.

That night--it was the evening of the fifteenth of January--the railroad in and about Watertown nearly collapsed. Trains were hugely delayed and many of them abandoned. The _Watertown Times_ of the next day, navely announced:

"Conductor Sandiforth didn't come home last night and missed a good deal by not coming. He spent the evening with a party of shovelers working his way from Richland to Pierrepont Manor. Conductor Aiken followed him up with the night train but he couldn't pa.s.s him, and so both trains arrived here at 9:30 this (Thursday) morning."

Here Conductor Lew Sandiforth first comes into our picture and for a moment I shall interrupt my narrative to give a bit of attention to him.

He is well worth the interruption of any narrative. We had many pretty well-known conductors on the old R. W. & O.--but none half so well-known as Lew Sandiforth. He was the wit of the old line, and its pet beau. It was said of him, that if there was a good looking woman on the afternoon train up to Watertown, Lew would quit taking tickets somewhere north of Sandy Creek. The train then could go to the Old Harry for all he cared. He had his social duties to perform. He was not one to shirk such responsibilities.

In those days a railroad conductor was something of an uncrowned king, anyway. His pay was meager, but ofttimes his profits were large. One of these famous old ticket punchers upon the Rome road lived at the Woodruff House, in Watertown, throughout the seventies. His wage was seventy-five dollars a month, but he paid ninety dollars a month board for his wife and himself and kept a driver and a carriage in addition. No questions were asked. The road, on the whole, was glad to get its freight and its ticket office revenues. Even these last were nothing to brag about. It was a poor sort of a public man in those days who could not have his wallet lined with railroad annual pa.s.ses. A large proportion of the pa.s.sengers upon the average train rode free of any charge. Sometimes this attained a scandalous volume. Away back in 1858, I find the Directors of the Potsdam & Watertown resolving that no officer of their company "shall give a free pa.s.s for _more_ than one trip over the road to any one person, except officers of other railroad companies; and that an account of all free pa.s.ses taken up shall be entered by the conductors in their daily returns with the name of the person pa.s.sed and the name of the person who gave the pa.s.s, and the Superintendent shall submit statement thereof to each meeting of the Board." Moreover, he was requested to notify the conductors not to pa.s.s any persons without a pa.s.s except the Directors and Secretary of the company, and their families, the roadmaster, paymaster, station agents, and "persons who the conductors think are ent.i.tled to charity."

Despite obstacles to its full earning power such as this, the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh prospered ... and progressed. Forever it was planning new frills to add to its operation. In 1865 it had placed a through Wagner sleeping-car in service between Watertown and New York. In 1875 this was an established function, leaving Watertown on the 6:30 train each evening and arriving in New York at 7:55 the next morning; returning it left New York each evening at six, and Albany at 11:40, and was in Watertown at 9:05 the next morning. A later management of the R. W. & O.

in a fit of economy discontinued this service, and for more than twenty years the North Country stood in line for sleeping-car berths at Utica station, while it fought for the restoration of its sleeping-cars. These cars eventually came back, but not regularly until 1891, when the New York Central took over the property and put its up-to-date traffic methods upon it once again.

The local management of the mid-seventies--composed almost entirely of Watertown men--was not content to stop with the through sleeping cars between their chief town and New York. They finally instructed H. H.

Sessions, their Master Mechanic, down in the old shops at Rome, to build two wonderful new cars for their line, "the likes of which had never been seen before." Mr. Sessions approached his new task with avidity. He was a born car-builder, in after years destined to take charge of the motive power department of the International & Great Northern Railway, at Palestine, Texas, and then, in January, 1887, to become Manager of the great Pullman car works at Pullman, Ill., just outside of Chicago. For six years he held this position, afterwards resigning it to enter into business for himself. The first vestibuled trains in which the platforms were enclosed, were built under his supervision under what are known to-day as the "Sessions Patents." He was indeed an inventive genius, and also designed the first steel platforms and other very modern devices in progressive car construction.

Sessions produced two sleeping-cars for the old Rome road. The "likes of them" had never been seen before, and never will be seen again. They were named the _St. Lawrence_ and the _Ontario_, and, despite the fact that they depended upon candle-light as their sole means of illumination, they were wonderfully finished in the rarest of hard-woods. Alternately they were sleeping-cars and parlor-cars. At the first they were distinguished by the fact that they possessed no upper-berths, their mattresses, pillows and linen being carried in closets at either end of the car.

These cars at one time were placed in service between Syracuse, Watertown and Fabyan's, N. H., pa.s.sing enroute through Norwood, Rouse's Point and Montpelier. One of them was in charge of Ed. Frary, the son of the General Ticket Agent of the R. W. & O. at that time, and the other in charge of L. S. Hungerford, who originally came from Evan's Mills. This was the Hungerford, who to-day is Vice-President and General Manager of the Pullman Company, at Chicago. A third or "spare" car was afterwards purchased from the Pullman Company and renamed the _DeKalb_.

Because of the limited carrying capacity of these R. W. & O. sleeping-cars they were never profitable. They did a little better when they were in day service as parlor-cars. One of Mr. Richard Holden's most vivid memories is of one of these cars coming into Watertown from the south on the afternoon train, which would halt somewhere near the Pine Street cutting to slip it off, preparatory to placing it on the Cape train at the Junction.

"I remember," he says, "how proud the late Frank Cornish was in riding down the straight on the first drawing-room car, with his hands on the brakewheel. He was a brakeman at that time. Afterwards he was promoted to baggageman and then to conductor, having the run on Number One and Number Seven for many years, afterwards conducting a cigar-stand in the Yates Hotel at Syracuse until he died."

When hard times came upon the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh these cars were laid up. Once in later years, under the Parsons management, they were renamed the _Cataract_ and the _Niagara_, and operated in the Niagara Falls night trains. But again, they proved too much of a financial drag, and they were finally converted into day-coaches. There was another parlor-car, the _Watertown_. Eventually this became the private-car of Mr.

H. M. Britton, General Manager of the R. W. & O., while the others remained day coaches; still retaining, however, their wide plate-gla.s.s windows and their general appearance of comfortable ease.

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The Story Of The Rome, Watertown, And Ogdensburg RailRoad Part 6 summary

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